The other day I saw a really interesting fan question that was written about by college football analyst Stewart Mandel of The Athletic. This was the question:
If you were going to build the best possible team composed of seven units from different teams: Quarterback, Running Back, Receivers/Tight Ends, Offensive Line, Defensive Line, Linebackers, and Secondary, while only taking one unit per conference, who would you select?
This intuitive question allows you to express your opinions about some of the top players/teams in the country while also posing as a quasi-GM having to navigate obstacles when selecting your roster. To preface, the question may seem easier than you think, but while your immediate instinct may be to select guys like Trevor Lawrence at QB or Jonathon Taylor at RB, doing so eliminates the rest of the ACC and Big 10 for further selection. This question also forces you to pick from at least two non-power five schools, which unless you want to select a QB like Mandel did with Jordan Love, there are only a few schools worthy of looking at this season (Notre Dame, Army, and UCF).
The link below is to the full article by Mandel, but for those of you who don’t subscribe to The Athletic, I will put the units he selected below as well. After that is a breakdown of who I picked and why I picked them.
Stewart Mandel’s Picks:
QB: Utah State (Jordan Love)
DL: Notre Dame
QB: Oregon- Justin Herbert
There were two main reasons I made this pick. The first reason is that I believe Herbert is one of the three best QB’s in the country right alongside Tua and Trevor Lawrence (Jake Fromm one step below these three). The second reason is that the Pac 12 is not exactly the most talented conference, so I don’t feel bad eliminating them from the rest of the positions. Justin Herbert should be a top 10 pick in next year’s NFL draft. He has great size at 6’6” 234 and is very fast despite primarily being a pocket passer. He has incredible arm strength and maybe the best accuracy I’ve seen out of a college QB since Andrew Luck. The one knock on him is his decision making. Last year, Herbert was relatively inconsistent and this was due to his occasional poor decision making. Taking another season to improve this aspect of his game was likely the reason Herbert decided to stay in college instead of going to the NFL this past draft. I think Oregon will have a great chance to win the Pac 12 this year with Justin Herbert as their leader, and I would love to have him be the QB for my team.
RB: UCF- Greg McCrae and Adrian Killins
There are certainly better RB units in the country than UCF’s (Oklahoma’s duo of Sermon and Brooks, Etienne, Taylor, etc.), but this duo from UCF is extremely good and experienced and is well worth using as one of my non-power five selections. Both backs are lightning fast and have put up great stats early on in their UCF careers. McCrae took over as the starter last season after having a minor role his first year at UCF, and he did not disappoint. He finished with 1,182 yards on 133 carries (8.9 ypc) and 10 rushing TD’s. Killins has been a significant contributor at UCF for a while now. In 2017, he had 790 yards on 123 carries (6.4 ypc) and 10 TD’s, and last year he had 715 yards on 147 carries (4.9 ypc) with 4 TD’s (also had 377 receiving yards and 4 receiving TD’s in 2018). This duo gives opposing defenses major problems trying to stop the run. Both of them have incredible big-play ability and can take it to the house from any point on the field. With opposing teams not being able to stack the box when I have Justin Herbert at QB, that would open up plenty of room for these speedsters to run.
WR/TE: Clemson- Justyn Ross, Tee Higgins, Joe Ngata, Frank Ladson, etc.
Clemson and Alabama are very close in the race for the best receiving core in the country, but I give the edge to Clemson, and also feel good about using my ACC pick here. Despite losing Hunter Renfrow, Clemson has an incredible receiving core for Trevor Lawrence to throw to. Justyn Ross and Tee Higgins are the best receiving duo I’ve seen in a long time. In the national championship game against Alabama, they combined for nine catches 234 yards and 2 touchdowns (not to mention what they did against Notre Dame in the semi’s which we won’t get into because I don’t want to talk about it). The young (19 and 20 years old) duo is back and ready to step it up a notch. In addition, Clemson picked up two more stud receivers in the 2019 recruiting class in Joe Ngata and Frank Ladson (both top 50 overall players and top 10 WR’s in their class). I expect both of these two to have an immediate impact for Clemson. Clemson doesn’t have great TE’s, but the incredible WR core they have more than makes up for that.
OL: Georgia- (left to right) Andrew Thomas, Solomon Kindley, Trey Hill, Ben Cleveland, Isaiah Wilson
In my opinion, Georgia and Michigan undoubtedly have the two best offensive lines in the country heading into the 2019-20 season, however, I think Georgia’s is slightly better and worthy of this pick. Andrew Thomas will be the best offensive lineman in the country this year. He was first-team All-SEC last year and is projected to be a top-five pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Solomon Kindley is entering his second year as a starter, and he provides some nice beef up front at 340 pounds. Trey Hill will be starting for the first time this season, but he was a top 60 recruit in the country in 2018 and had the chance to learn under a first-team All-SEC center last year in Lamont Gallard, so the program has high hopes for him. Ben Cleveland will also be starting for the first time this year, but he should be a star on this line as some NFL scouts see him as a 2-4 round pick in the 2020 draft. Isaiah Wilson could be one of the best RT’s in the country this year. He is 6’7” 345, was the #16 recruit in the 2017 class, and was a starter as a redshirt freshman this past season. Other than Andrew Thomas, Wilson is probably the 2nd best NFL prospect on this line. Overall Georgia has arguably the best line in the country. As a Notre Dame fan, I am very excited to see how my star DE’s handle this line on Sep 21st.
DL: Ohio State- Chase Young, Rob Landers, Davon Hamilton, Tyreke Smith
There aren’t any defensive lines in the country this year that truly stand out (like Clemson’s did last year), but Ohio State probably has the best of all of them. This unit is led by Chase Young who very well could be the top non-QB taken in the 2020 NFL Draft. Young is entering his junior season and is arguably the best d-lineman in the country. As a recruit, he was a five-star and the #7 ranked player in the 2017 class. This past season, with Nick Bosa sidelined, Young got the chance to shine finishing the season with 9.5 sacks and 14.5 tackles for a loss. On the other end of the line will be Tyreke Smith, who will be a first-time starter. Smith is a true sophomore who was the #34 recruit in the 2018 class. With Young drawing a lot of the attention from offensive lines, Smith will have a good chance to put up solid numbers this year. On the interior are two 5th-year seniors: Davon Hamilton and Robert Landers. They bring a lot of experience to the defense and are one of the better run-stopping duos in the country with 28.5 career TFL’s between the two of them. In addition, Landers is being projected as a later round pick in the 2020 draft. Ohio State has a long history of great defensive lines, and this season they should add another one to that list. I’m very excited about the showdown between this great d-line and Michigan’s elite o-line in late November.
LB: Oklahoma- Kenneth Murray, Caleb Kelly, DaShaun White
This might be a bit of surprising pick to some as Oklahoma hasn’t exactly been known for their defense in recent years, but this year they will have one of the better linebacker cores in the country. The star of the show here is Kenneth Murray. Murray had 155 tackles last season which was tied for 2nd in the country. Many believe that Murray, who will be a junior, will leave for the NFL after this season as he is currently a projected 2-3 round pick. At one of the OLB spots will be DaShaun White, a 2018 4 star recruit who will be starting for the first time. However, the major question for Oklahoma this year is Caleb Kelly. Kelly had to have surgery after a lower-body injury in the spring, but the Sooners say he is already ahead of schedule and has a good chance to play at least a portion of this upcoming season. For this scenario, I am assuming that Kelly is healthy. He will be a senior this year and is a former 5-star recruit. With Kelly healthy, the Sooners have arguably the best linebacker core in the country.
DB: Notre Dame- Troy Pride, Houston Griffith, Shaun Crawford, Alohi Gillman, Jalen Elliot, Kyle Hamilton
Notre Dame isn’t known for having great DB’s, so this might be another surprise pick for some. Watching Notre Dame’s secondary get torched by Clemson after Julian Love got hurt probably leads people to believe that life after Love (who left for the NFL) won’t be pretty, but that won’t be the case. Troy Pride (who allowed only one touchdown in the entire 2018-19 season while playing opposite Love) will be a more than formidable CB1, and many believe his name will be called in the 2020 NFL Draft. Opposite him will be Houston Griffith. Griffith was a top 70 player in the 2018 recruiting class, but he struggled last season due to his poor mechanics and lack of experience. The hope around Notre Dame is that he will be much improved in his mechanics, and if that is the case then he will be a great CB2 with is incredible athleticism. The slot CB spot was Notre Dame’s worst position on either side of the ball last year by far. Luckily the Irish get their slot guy back in Shaun Crawford who missed last season with a torn ACL. These three should be a solid CB core, and behind them is arguably the best safety duo in the country in Alohi Gillman and Jalen Elliot. Gillman will be the leader of the defense this year both on and off the field. He is a great energy guy who always finds a way to make plays. Next to him is Jalen Elliot who is probably a better athlete and NFL prospect than Gillman, but doesn’t quite have the same instincts and spark that Alohi has. Their backup will likely be Kyle Hamilton who arrives in South Bend as a true freshman and the #15 overall player in the 2019 class according to 247 sports’ rankings. He won’t be a starter, but Notre Dame expects him to have an immediate impact wherever they can fit him as he is one of the best recruits Notre Dame has had in a long time.